Ain’t that the blues

Beedy Eyes stops thumping the skins as Chaney sings an old Leadbelly work song as I recall the first time I heard the blues. It was somewhere between the music I heard as a child–primarily country, gospel and hymns. A skinny toe head growing up on the rolling northern prairies, I perceived the blues was somewhere between country and gospel–something you sing while dangling your feet off a hayrack weighed down with a full load, something you sing with others coming in from the field, something you sing when the sun is tilting toward the western horizon. For a young kid hearing the blues for the first time it was somewhere on my musical landscape between religious and profane, respect and discent, right and wrong, joy and despair and seemed to fit me like a glove.

The window is open to an autumn afternoon as I work on graphic design projects. I listen to Bill, Chaney and Junior sing about hard times. Neighborhood dogs barking and birds singing seem to be appropriate backup. It’s been hard times for a lot of us. The other night I walked into a friend’s home and he asked right off, with a smile, “Anything you need to repent of? We’re talking about repentance.” Yeah, I think to myself. I got a long list. There are times I want to rob and steal, cuss and swear, break stuff and hit someone and be all sizes of trouble. Hard times is life. Doing what I aught to do is not easy. Ain’t that the blues? Or is that gospel? The double edged swing of the blues kicking up the dust of life in your face, choking on pride and praying that you “remember you’re walkin’ up to heaven, don’t let nobody turn you round.”

Peace Is a Flower: A Night of Poetry and Music

Peace is a flower – poetry and music

Tomorrow, 8:30 p.m. join James McKay, Laura Hope-Gill, Caleb Beissert, Pasckie Pascua, and Aaron Price at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, 1 Page Avenue, Asheville on SEPT 11, 8:30 to 11PM. This event is free to the public. Read poet and musician bios as well as other information on the Facebook events page. Link.

Artifacts from the late 1990s

Hidden in the back of a closet, a box of audio CDs

Is it possible to keep secrets or hide treasure in such an open, immediate society? Think of the secrets between Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting of On Chesil Beach. It was a different time and place. Or maybe the quiet understanding between Primo and Secondo in the final moments of Big Night. Again, those were different times. A world before the internet and mobile devices and social media. Even in fictional works, you recognize how culture changes and you change with it.

My thoughts kept drifting back to that theme this weekend. A week or so ago, I opened the cardboard box to find two neat rows of artifacts from the late 1990s. Compact discs. CDs. Seems much more tangible than finding two rows of “moving picture experts group” (MPEG) files when referring to audio music. (Even composing that sentence seems clunky and unsophisticated.) This collection of music was packed into a cardboard box and was supposed to be unpacked when I relocated to Asheville. The box remained sealed like a time capsule.

My Beauty and I rented  a space in Asheville that was twice the cost of our previous house and half the size. It was the most affordable place we could find at the time. A lot of boxes remained unpacked because there was no space to expand. Now as we pack things up again, I decide to keep this cardboard box open, listen to Tonic’s Lemon Parade, Goo Goo Doll’s Dizzy Up The Girl, and reflect on how different these times are compared to the late 1990s.

At that time, Bill Clinton was president of the U.S. and Boris Yeltsin was the first president of the Russian Federation. There was no Twitter revolution. Americans would get together in homes or apartments to share supper and snacks while watching the latest episode of the television shows ER, Friends or Party of Five. That was before the rise of the cult of white box worshippers [1] and the advent of Netflix. There seemed to be a greater sense of community. Or maybe that’s just 1990s nostalgia.

During that time, I didn’t own a personal computer or laptop. When I returned home from my job as a graphic designer, I would often read books or listened to Blues Traveler, Beth Hart or unknown indie bands like Spooky Tuesday on a CD player while I worked on illustrations or paintings. As I rediscover these albums, I recall paintings I was working on while listening to Days of the New for the first time. When I listen to Stavesacre’s album, friends I haven’t thought of in years fill my mind.

There was a specific evening with coworkers I recall. After work, we often meet up for dinner and a movie. While waiting for food to be served we were discussing the events of the day while enjoying our drinks. One coworker’s teenage daughter, who often joined us on those evenings, said, “There’s no specific movement in the 90s. Not like the 60’s or 70s. I mean, I grew up in the 90s. Even the music is boring. There’s nothing memorable about the 90s.” Maybe that’s teenage naivety, but I think there is much to remember of the late 1990s.

NOTES: [1] This is a reference to an article by Andrew Sullivan that I mentioned years ago in an essay, iPod, therefore iAm?.

Afternoon poetry and jazz

Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon Audio CD

Sometimes a few notes of music follow you for days are weeks or years. Sometimes a line of poetry haunts you like a memory you can’t quite recall. It’s like rain, it permeates the air, wets the ground, even makes tea taste more pronounced.

Here’s part of a story I can share with you. After I was at university studying art and design, I found an audio CD in a music store titled Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon. What attracted me to the album, a compilation, was the fact that the cover art reminded me of a sexier version of Gustave Caillebotte’s famous painting. I purchased the audio CD. It was background music initially. Something to edge off lonely days as a poor graduate beginning a career in graphic design. About the same time I discovered, and purchased, a copy of William Kistler’s poetry book America February.

I have always enjoyed poetry and music, but reading Kistler’s work was rigorous for me. Light verse and traditional poems, the variety that fill American and English school book anthologies, were what I was familiar with. But Kistler’s poetry was a new dish for my inexperienced palate. Equally, understanding the musical selections of Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon as more than a background soundtrack was challenging.

A line from one of Susan L Daniels’s poems has captured my attention this past week—the way jazz and poetry sometimes do. The speaker in the poem answers a question, so you like jazz, by saying: “…the answer is no/I live it sometimes…” That’s what I have come to enjoy about the complicated progression in a song or a poem that avoids a clean resolution.

Jazz and poetry work into you. It takes you down that familiar path of a rainy day afternoon, a common enough subject, but it is a variation of that theme. Never the same way twice. Like reading a poem as a school boy and reading it later as a graduate and later as a professional. Same poem printed on the page, but different. Always different. But familiar, because you “live it.” There’s more to this story. Maybe I’ll share it with you on another rainy day afternoon.

Who will be the winner of the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize?

MtnX 04 06 11 cover

The Poetry Show featured in the Mountain Xpress Apr. 6-12, 2011 issue

And the finalists are:

  • Randal Pride, “Coal Palace”
  • Jessie Shires, “Corpus unum”
  • Jesse S. Rice-Evans, “Taking A Bath In Frida Kahlo’s Tub”
  • James Cox, “By the Lake in Northern Michigan”
  • James Davis, “Sourwood”
  • Jessica Claire Newton, “Two Weeks Deep Into the Dirty Laundry”
  • Tamsen Turner, “Sestina”
  • Brian Sneeden, “The Temple”
  • John Eells, “Sleep And Dreams”
  • Andrew Procyk, “Life and Death”

Some good poets represented on this list. Should be great evening of poetry and music.

I am honored and humbled to be on the list of featured poets for event. There’s a nice  write-up in the Mountain Xpress (Rhyme and reason) that mentions my involvement with the Rooftop Poets. Last time I was mentioned in the Xpress was when I was contributing to The Traveling Bonfires.

If you can make it to the big show tomorrow night, here’s some more details from the Mountain Xpress’s Facebook event page:

Featured poets include:
• Laura Hope-Gill, Director of Asheville Wordfest and Blue Ridge Parkway poet laureate.
• Matt Owens and Mesha Maren of the Juniper Bends reading series.
• Matthew Mulder and Brian Sneeden of the Rooftop Poets series.
• The top 10 finalists of the 2011 Mountain Xpress poetry prize will read their poems, and the overall winner of the contest will be announced. (The 10 finalists will also read their winning poems at the Saturday night YMI party during Wordfest in May.)

The evening concludes with a live performance by Keith Flynn & the Holy Men in celebration of the release of their album, “LIVE at the Diana Wortham Theatre.”

The even begins at 7 p.m. with a reception. Poetry readings begin at 8 p.m., and music begins at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $5 and can be purchased in advance at http://www.mountainx.com/mxcore/poem/tickets or at the door.

Hope to see you there!